SHELTER opens in Brooklyn’s Bedford Stuyvesant where a reclusive 16-year-old RAY (Ray Santiago, GIRLFIGHT, PIÑERO and MEET THE FOCKERS) tends his bedridden mother. After his mother's death his friend MARIA (Marilyn Soto Santiago), who lives in the building, discovers him hidden in a closet. Maria
takes him to his estranged brother, SPIDER (John Rafael Peralta), an 18-year-old male hustler. After Maria drops him off Ray tags along with Spider in his world of tricks and sugar daddies. However, it soon becomes apparent that the responsibility for Ray is more than Spider had bargained for.
Maria’s problems with drugs are further complicated by a pregnancy she tries to conceal. When her recklessness gets her thrown out of her sister’s apartment, she too finds herself homeless. She turns to Spider for help only to find out that he, in an act of desperation, has abandoned Ray. The two set out on a frantic search. They find Ray lost and frightened in a deserted Times Square alley. In a stolen car, unable to turn back, the three drive aimlessly into the night.
At daybreak, they find themselves stranded on a desolate beach in a world of natural beauty that is both breathtaking and unfamiliar. They happen upon a secluded beach house that has been boarded up for the winter. With nowhere else to go, they break in and set up housekeeping. In this strange and wonderful setting, devoid of external stresses, they attempt to form a surrogate family for the last few weeks of summer.
As Maria’s pregnancy advances, she cocoons herself with Ray in a make-believe world of “playing house.” Soon, however, jealousies erupt and the makeshift “family” begins to crumble. Spider’s discovery of Maria’s pregnancy is the final straw for him. He gives Ray an ultimatum and when Ray decides to stay with Maria, Spider takes the car and returns to the city.
In a final devastating scene Maria gives birth to her baby out in the middle of nowhere. In the end it's Ray who embraces the new life with the same immediateness with which he had ended his mother's suffering in the beginning of the story.
ABOUT THE FILM
SHELTER is Benno Schoberth’s first feature. “What triggered the idea for SHELTER was a news story I had heard years ago about two young brothers whose mother died at home. Afraid that the authorities would separate them, the boys kept her hidden in the house for several weeks. Although SHELTER is not their story, the idea of the two boys being lost in the world and unable to ask for help brought up a wealth of images for me.
I’ve known quite a few people whose family structures had either collapsed or never existed in the first place. To me, people who have no point of reference create some of the most fascinating alternatives to family and home.
With SHELTER, I was interested in watching the three lead characters struggle to make their fragmented relationships add up to something outside of themselves. Each is ill equipped to care for the other, but in forming alliances, they are forced to venture beyond their individual emotional limitations. Although they are ultimately unsuccessful in keeping their makeshift family alive, for me the real story is their very attempt.
Some of the scenes in SHELTER are a direct result of improvisation work I did using an earlier draft of the script. The actors read the script and were then told to throw it out the window. The work took scenes in completely different directions and to completely different conclusions than on paper. It was an extremely liberating experience that informed the way I subsequently worked with my actors on set.”
“Our production started two weeks after 9/11. We shot the North Fork sequences first, for weather reasons. We were away from the city but every night huddled around the TV. It was a truly unreal experience. Our small production in the middle of nowhere and at home in New York City everything had stopped. I remember the feeling of helplessness. I think in a way it made us very focused.
I remember one of Peter Sollet’s production stills for RAISING VICTOR VARGAS where the actors are on a rooftop with the burning World Trade towers in the background. I know they must have had the same questions about whether or not to go on.”